Will hiring a celebrity designer turn Walmart into a fashion destination, à la Target?

Discussion
Photo: Walmart
Mar 16, 2021
George Anderson

Walmart thinks that collaborating with a big name American fashion designer, whose clients include Lady Gaga and Michelle Obama among others, will help give the chain the fashion cred it’s looking for.

The retailer has reached a deal with Brandon Maxwell to serve as the creative director for its Free Assembly and Scoop “exclusive, elevated fashion” labels. Mr. Maxwell will be responsible for “driving the design” of the seasonal collections of both brands that feature clothing and accessories for men, women and kids. He will also be involved in the marketing campaigns supporting the brands.

Walmart describes Free Assembly as a “modern, fashion essentials” brand and Scoop as “trend-inspired.”

Mr. Maxwell’s work for both brands will first show up in Walmart’s stores and online during the Christmas selling season later this year. His first full collection will hit Walmart’s racks in the Spring of 2022.

Fans of the designer’s work, however, will not have to wait that long. He and the retailer have rolled out a line of face masks with a charitable component. Walmart is donating $100,000 to DonorsChoose.org, a charity selected by Mr. Maxwell, that helps public school teachers get funding for materials to do their jobs better.

The designer, who was born and raised in Longview, TX, called working with Walmart the realization of a personal dream.

“Like many people across the country who live in a small town, Walmart was the destination for everything where I grew up in Texas, including clothing,” he said in a statement.

“Everyone deserves to have access to well-designed clothing at an accessible price point,” said Mr. Maxwell. “I am energized by this collaboration with Walmart, as it is not only an opportunity to make exceptional design accessible to all but, with our charitable initiatives, we will work to help people improve their lives. That is after all the most fashionable thing we can do.”

Walmart leadership’s aspirations to make the chain into an apparel powerhouse known for its designs as well as its low prices is well known.

Denise Incandela, executive vice president for apparel and private brands for the retailer, has been tasked with making Walmart a fashion destination. The retailer has launched Fresh Assembly under her watch and also brought exclusive women’s lines from Ellen DeGeneres and Sofia Vergara  to market.

She said Mr. Maxwell is “the ideal partner” and called his work “beautiful, youthful, timeless and expertly tailored.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will Brandon Maxwell’s designs help turn Walmart into a retail clothing destination worthy of a nickname like its rival, Target? What will elevated sales of clothing mean for Walmart’s business overall?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Brand promises have boundaries. I hope Walmart is mindful of those boundaries, however they might want to stretch them, as it executes this initiative."
"It’s going to take time and a lot of marketing before consumers put Walmart and designer fashion together in the same sentence."
"Wow — Well this is a big stretch way outside of the box, but when has Walmart been shy about taking risks?"

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28 Comments on "Will hiring a celebrity designer turn Walmart into a fashion destination, à la Target?"


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Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

This is a stretch for Walmart, obviously. Target and Kohl’s have been playing in the “fashion” arena for years now, and so has Amazon, making it even more of a stretch. But having said that, we’ll have to see exactly what Walmart means by “fashion.” If it’s more like Duluth Trading and less like Gucci, they will succeed. But the minute we see Doug McMillon with a boa around his neck, we’ll know they’re in trouble.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

The quotation marks around “fashion” are the most instructive part of your comment.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

This appointment will help, especially in the design of apparel. Online I am sure that the ranges will look good and will appeal to more consumers, especially if Walmart continues to use social media to reach younger consumers.

However how it looks in stores is another matter. In most shops, Free Assembly looks a mess. It is merchandised like most other apparel in Walmart which doesn’t do it justice. Walmart has not yet learned the lesson from Target that creating new bands is a holistic activity. It’s not enough to create nice products, you also have to display, merchandise and market them in a suitable way.

Christine Russo
BrainTrust

While I think a celebrity designer collaboration is a great idea for Walmart, this particular collab doesn’t seem like a good match – it feels more like a Halston + J.C. Penney situation.

Jeff Weidauer
BrainTrust

Walmart has forged an almost unbreakable price image, yet has spent many years and millions of dollars in an attempt to get past that image – so far, all for naught. Target’s brand alchemy was a happy confluence of events not likely to be repeated, even with Walmart’s resources. The company might be better served by keeping its focus on what it does best.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

I get the feeling that Walmart may be preparing to create a more upscale version of itself. Walmart cannot afford to abandon its roots, but it can create a division that purports to cater to a slightly more affluent segment of the population. Remember these words. I foresee more to come on this.

Suresh Chaganti
BrainTrust

Walmart is clearly playing a game of catchup here. In the big picture things, Walmart was behind Amazon on e-commerce and now is behind Target on private labels and brands. Somehow Walmart is not making the right bets at the right time.

Rick Watson
BrainTrust

All things considered, Jet.com was a big distraction. Yes, their dot-com performance greatly improved in the last five years, but did they need Mr. Lore to do it and famously clash with their culture, etc.? Or did they just need to make it a much bigger focus?

Suresh Chaganti
BrainTrust

I think Jet was ahead of its time, a spiritual predecessor to Instacart. The fulfillment and last-mile delivery challenges brought it down. Those challenges still remain. The difference is the market is more ready and forgiving as companies make investments and operating losses.

Rick Watson
BrainTrust

I don’t think Walmart will be able to escape its brand, and probably it shouldn’t try. Collaboration are nice because of unique inventory, as long as they are on-brand. Why do people walk into a Walmart? Everyday low prices.

What is the last reason people walk into a Walmart? “Elevated fashion.”

I don’t like this move too much.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

“Trend merchandising” has been in Target’s DNA since its beginnings, as a spinoff of Dayton’s Department Stores in Minneapolis. (Dayton’s is often credited with developing the concept.) Walmart has a much different history, with its roots as a small-town purveyor of affordable basics and commodities. Both stores opened in 1962, but the similarities end there.

The two retailers’ brand identities are still tied to their “origin stories,” so the infusion of designer promotions and new product development comes more naturally to Target. This is not Walmart’s first attempt at elevating its apparel, but its track record has been spotty; even an acquisition like Bonobos has not translated into big changes inside Walmart itself. No harm in making an effort, but it doesn’t feel like a game changer for Walmart.

Scott Norris
Guest

Target is 100% Dayton’s DNA. The prototype ran out of Dayton’s basement space in downtown Minneapolis in the early 1960s and when validated, put into standalone stores from 1962 onward. “T1” as we locals call it, is less than a mile from my house in Roseville, MN.

The Dayton Hudson Department Store Corporation rebranded itself Target Corporation in 2000, reflecting where the majority of its sales were coming from — and Target spun off the department stores to Macy’s in 2004 — which we still grouse about … It’s no mistake that their “all in motion” sportswear private label line uses the Dayton’s 1970s-era logo!

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

Exactly! I grew up in St. Paul and worked for Dayton’s (prior to Kohl’s) from 1978-1982. I know that original Target store well … not far from the first McDonald’s in the Twin Cities, too.

William Passodelis
Guest

Wow Mr. Norris, thank you for confirming my thoughts! I saw that logo for the All In Motion clothes and I said “that’s the old Dayton logo! Yes, Target has Dayton DNA and perhaps that is part of what makes Target Target, and that is something that can not be replicated!

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

When I read that Walmart wants to offer “exclusive, elevated fashion” I see an immediate red flag. And of course nobody wants to read that Walmart will do “everyday, casual fashion” better than anybody else. But then I have to remind myself of Walmart’s initiatives with TikTok and other social media. That makes it a whole new ball game. Gap, at its peak, was not so much about product as it was about really fun, clever and entertaining marketing (long before social media was available). That opportunity is certainly open to Walmart at this moment. It will be a very skillful combination of design, marketing and in-store execution that will win the day. If they stretch too far on design and then just load it all onto rounders it will prove to be a very expensive markdown. Brand promises have boundaries. I hope Walmart is mindful of those boundaries, however they might want to stretch them, as it executes this initiative.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

Wow — Well this is a big stretch way outside of the box, but when has Walmart been shy about taking risks? Does anyone know what happened to the collaboration with the Fab Five Guys — did that end up going anywhere? I know we talked about it last year, but I never heard anything after that or saw anything in Walmart stores.

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

We have to set expectations here and consider who their target customer is in the apparel segment. I don’t think Ralph Lauren’s department store customers are going to descend on Walmart now that they’ve signed a new designer. I doubt many of their customers have much familiarity with Brandon Maxwell, especially their menswear customers.

However the attention they’ll get from the marketing campaign and by customers finding well designed, fashionable silhouettes on endcaps and at focal points in their local Walmart will drive business and earn marketshare.

Maxwell himself is quoted in the piece as saying that Walmart was his destination store growing up in Texas. With Brandon Maxwell, menswear shoppers in smaller markets will have another reason to shop Walmart. I bet this is a win.

Joel Rubinson
BrainTrust

I don’t think Walmart has any boundaries. Like Costco, there are pickups and Mercedes in the parking lot. They can and should expand in this way rather than living within self-imposed guardrails.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

The one thing that Target did very well in their partnerships with designers was to choose designers who were highly coveted household names. I don’t watch Project Runway and, although I do read fashion magazines, I had to Google Brandon Maxwell.

There’s a big difference between buying fashion at Target and buying fashion at Walmart. Target is bright and airy and feels like a hip place to shop; Walmart still feels like a discount warehouse because that’s how Walmart has branded itself. It’s going to take time and a lot of marketing before consumers put Walmart and designer fashion together in the same sentence.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

I have difficulties recognizing Target as a “fashion destination,” so you know where I stand on the idea that Walmart can be one.

William Passodelis
Guest

Sir, I always find your responses thoughtful and knowledgeable and this one also made me laugh out loud! Thanks!

Rich Duprey
Guest

How many times is Walmart going to try this? Back in the aughts it launched fashion lines with Max Azria, Norma Kamali, and others and they failed. Jet.com was an attempt at having a high-end e-commerce presence that it has abandoned, Jetblack was a white glove concierge service that it killed off, and while Lord & Taylor set up a third-party store on walmart.com, I can’t imagine many upscale shoppers are turning to the everyday low price leader for their fashion sense.

Every time Walmart forgets who its customer is — the price-sensitive shopper — it ends in disaster, and will undoubtedly fail this time too. Beefing up quality is one thing, trying to be something different is simply another fashion faux pas.

Cynthia Holcomb
BrainTrust

Brandon Maxwell designs with a keen simplicity imbued in his elevated designer classics reaching back into the ’70s. I can see why Walmart selected him. “Fashion” wise, we are at a new destination of what fashion means to everyday people emerging from a year of life interrupted. Now it is time for a refresh. I believe Walmart understands this new phase by offering fresh fashion simplicity to its customers under a not-so-known fashion name. While Walmart stores are not exactly well merchandised, the average non-merchant person doesn’t care. Brandon Maxwell designs offer a fresh apparel start after a long 365 days. Who doesn’t want to freshen up their wardrobe, inexpensively after COVID-19? I know I do!

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

In order for a sale to take place, there has to be supply … and demand. Are Walmart’s customers the type to buy designer clothing? Certainly the demographics of the stores, their location, appearance, merchandise carried, differ from Target (tho this is an attempt to change the last attribute). So call me skeptical.

Liza Amlani
Guest
26 days 43 minutes ago

Walmart has been attempting to expand their apparel assortment with “designer” brands and collaborations like Sofia Jeans, Free Assembly, Scoop, etc., to drive customers to the stores for years. It doesn’t work. The rollback on toilet paper does that.

Target’s collaborations have been driving the fashionista into their stores for over 20 years — lining up to grab one of a kind pieces, crashing websites, giving you a taste of luxury at a steal. The products are limited in quantity and exclusive which is part of the beauty of partnering luxury + low/middle market retailing. Driving customers to the stores with curated product assortments, giving you a piece of Missoni or Altuzarra is what differentiates Target from Walmart — it gives the customer access to the world of otherwise unattainable luxury.

If Walmart is looking to expand its customer reach, fashion is just not their wheelhouse.

The question is — what was your last clothing purchase at Walmart and did you go there for the fashion?

RandyDandy
Guest
25 days 23 hours ago
This is a “win” for all involved. For Brandon Maxwell, because it elevates his not-overly-well-known design standing. For Walmart customers, because it just gives them more choice. For marketers and promoters, because now they have something more to market and promote. (For us, as well, because we have another RetailWire “discussion” to write about.) However, this is mostly for Walmart. But not because it will bring them scads of money, sales, or attention. Although it will generate all that, to varying degrees, what it really does is gives them a truly cheap way to ponder going financially deeper in to the fashion market. Which has never been a significant part of their normal, value-driven identity. Further, I wish to cast no aspersions on Mr. Maxwell’s talent (or “value”). But Walmart knows that this very affordable partnership can also result in gains greater than imagined, and/or save them just as many millions. By not spending (gambling) a far larger amount at the outset to a designer warranting more, and designing pricier goods, theirs is an ironic… Read more »
James Tenser
BrainTrust

Walmart.com may do alright with own-label designer fashion, but I suspect it will fall flat in Walmart stores. The difference comes down to who shops the channels and for what categories of goods.

Try to picture dressing rooms in your local Walmart Supercenter for a moment … How does that image mesh with the store environment you are familiar with?